1. Using pest controls is a personal decision. July brings a spike in insect and disease populations. There are numerous options for pest control, including letting nature run its course and living with your losses or taking preventative measures by applying a chemical at the onset of a pest problem. There are many low-impact chemicals on the market that are derived from botanical and biological organisms. The key is to properly identify the pest and use all products according to the label directions. Pest management products are EPA approved for use per the label. Late evening is often the best time to spray.
2. Irrigate as needed during the dry summer months. An irrigation system can be fitted with a rain sensor to save water and avoid operating rainy days. Afternoon thunderstorms in July can produce a lot of rainfall. However, in sandy soils of the coastal region, lawns may suffer if not monitored for water loss. Tall fescue and bluegrass lawns can survive with only minimal water, as they go into dormancy if not fertilized and irrigated in late spring.
3. Warm-season turfgrass varieties, like Bermuda grass, St. Augustine, and zoysia should be fertilized monthly during the summer, or as needed based on a soil test. For more information on lawn management, request or download a copy of the “Lawn Maintenance Calendar” from the N.C. Cooperative Extension for your turfgrass type.
4. Mow lawns as needed, but remove no more than one-third of the height of the grass. This ensures that the root system is not stressed. Clippings can be left on tall fescue lawns to recycle nutrients and add organic matter back into the soil. Raise the cutting height on cool-season grasses in shady lawns during the summer months. This also helps reduce weed infestations and support grass root systems.
5. St. Augustine grass is susceptible to chinch bug infestations. Close examination of browning areas in the lawn can reveal these tiny insects. To test, use an emptied canned food can with both ends removed. Push it into the ground slightly and fill with soapy water. The insects should float.
6. Irrigation and mulching are important practices for successful landscape gardening. Experiment with drip irrigation and other low volume systems to conserve water. Rain barrels that receive storm water from your gutters are a good way to supply moisture to thirsty flower gardens.
7. Slow-release fertilizer products that contain a crabgrass pre-emergence herbicide are a convenient way to provide continuous nutrition to ornamental plantings and reduce weeding time. Hand removal of crabgrass in edible plantings is made easier by pulling them after a rain or irrigation application.
8. Deadhead annual and perennial flowers to keep their energy in flower production, not seed development. Pinch out the top buds of dahlias, phlox, and garden mums for bushier plants and more flowers later in the season.
9. Early July is the last call for pruning ornamental shrubs, such as azaleas and spring flowering bushes. It is important to water shrubs that are pruned for normal recovery. Evergreen hedges are hand-pruned or sheared as needed during the summer months. Boxwoods are best pruned in early spring. Prune to remove faded blooms of Knockout roses. Fertilize roses monthly until September with fertilizers such as: 10-10-10; one gallon of liquid fertilizer dilution; or fish emulsion.
10. Staking gladiolus, dahlias, crocosmia, and other lanky perennials is important to prevent stem breakage and enhance the flower display. The choices of staking materials run the gamut, from bamboo stakes and tobacco sticks to hardware cloth and rebar. Rebar, commonly used in home construction, can be a useful material to create sturdy forms for tall perennials and supporting annual vines. Use heavy gauge wire to form a teepee-like trellis. Garden twist-ties and cable ties attach well to wires.
11. Beware of poison ivy as you head out for a camping trip or hiking a favorite trail. Lotions, applied like sunscreen, are available at most drug stores to deactivate the oily chemical that is responsible for the dreaded rash. Poison ivy can be identified by its foliage – 3 leaflets per leaf – and its growth habit as either groundcover or tree-climbing vine.
12. Snakes are a common sight during this time of year. Most are friendly and good to have around for eradicating pesky voles and mice. Remove them with a long pole if you have a phobia of snakes. Snake repellents are generally a waste of money. Removing brush and piles of wood, as well as eliminating mice are important strategies for keeping snakes away from a home. Bird netting strung around an area at ground level will trap snakes. Though you should monitor the trap and release captured snakes promptly.
13. Vegetable and herb plantings benefit from routine fertilizing on a monthly or six-week schedule. Do not fertilize on dry garden soil. It is better to wait for rainfall or after irrigating. Most fast growing vegetables prefer generous applications of nitrogen from calcium nitrate, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, or manures. Container plantings are best fed with specialty fertilizers or organic fertilizers.
14. As cool-season vegetables are rouged out of the garden, refresh the soil with compost, manure or nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer before planting or sowing successive crops. A legume cover crop can be planted following sweet corn to replace nutrients and improve the soil after it is turned under a couple months later.
15. It is often difficult to give gardeners specific instructions on watering a garden. Considering water lost through plant use (transpiration) and evaporation on a hot afternoon, a garden that is only 100 square feet in size will utilize the equivalent of a 55-gallon drum of water or more on a weekly basis. While woody plants can tolerate less water, vegetable plants will suffer if water is unavailable, reducing yield and threatening their very survival.
16. Squash vine borer, cucumber beetles, bean leaf beetles, Japanese beetles, corn earworms and stalk borers are common summer pests. There are numerous insecticides on the market for plethora of insects found in a vegetable garden. These products include chemical, biological and botanical active ingredients. Explore your options before using insecticides and give consideration to the time of day you spray and how it may affect beneficial insects in your garden.
17. In the mountain regions, cole crops and vegetable seeds of early maturing varieties can be sown for the fall garden. Tomato suckers can be rooted and set out into the garden to extend the season. Transplants of collards, kale, Swiss chard and brussel sprouts can be planted.
18. Summer is a great time to prune, thin canopies or limb up shade trees. Do not mistake tree pruning as “topping” shade trees, which is not a recommended practice by certified arborists. The general rule of thumb is to remove no more than 15 percent of the tree’s foliage. Trees that are too large for a yard are best removed and not topped.
19. Garden centers often run deep discounts in summer to clear out the spring inventory. While this is a great opportunity to expand your garden, beware of plants that have dead roots and may need extensive care to survive.
20. Don’t forget your garden while on vacation. Find a friend or professional gardener to water your container plantings while you are away. Your annual flowers may require watering at least once a week, as well.
About the author:
For more than 30 years, Toby Bost has been a resource to North Carolina gardeners and growers as an agricultural extension agent, a trainer for master gardeners, and an author. His books include The Successful Gardener Guide: North Carolina, North Carolina Gardener’s Guide, and The Carolina Gardener’s Guide. He can be reached through Our State magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org